We work in cubes. We move around in boxcars. We live in concrete lego-like blocks. Our eyes are almost constantly focused on screens, large and small. Is it any wonder that we feel spiritually and mentally cramped?
Yogic beliefs teach us that prana is the life force vital to living. Prana is manifest in the air, water, earth and sun. While westerners may take these elements for granted, they rarely take in prana. We breathe shallowly, using a fraction of our lung capacity. We drink artificial liquids from bottles and cans that clutter the environment, rather than turning on the faucet for nature’s best. And we live lives that are almost hermetically sealed. Our workplaces tend to have windows that do not open, and our homes are usually running A/C or heating units and devoid of natural air.
Practicing yoga (beyond the physical asanas) can help our society get back on track. Meditation and deep breathing, known as pranayama, have proven physical benefits, while asanas or what westerners refer to as “yoga” is often recommended by doctors for a wide variety of ailments ranging from back injuries to arthritis.
Perhaps one of the biggest challenges many face in the western world is how we run around at a rat’s pace. People routinely complain they don’t have enough hours in the day to get things done. Yet, if one were to take just ten minutes daily to practice deep breathing or meditation, they would likely have much greater clarity and focus to be more productive and less anxiety-ridden.
So many of today’s illnesses are stress related. Deep breathing, meditation and yoga exercises have all been shown to help alleviate tension and improve mental and physical health. While true yogis may indeed spend hours a day practicing the various forms of yoga, implementation of these techniques can easily be a part of everyone’s life. Elements of the multiple branches of yoga can be done any time and any place.
While it’s beneficial to have daily routines for a personal yoga practice, anything is better than nothing. One can do practice deep breathing and lung opening exercises in bed, in an airplane, on the subway, between conference calls, while the tea pot is heating up, or while breast feeding a baby.
Yoga poses can be done on the beach, at the park, in the office, while waiting in the grocery checkout line or while in the car in a traffic jam. Granted we’re not talking about doing the full sun salutation next to your grocery cart, but there are many balancing poses, arm and shoulder stretches and forward and backward bends that can be done without attracting any attention or taking up space. Best of all, these help center one’s mind, and relieve one of stress.
The more one practices asanas, meditation and pranayama, the healthier and more vibrant one will feel. Another added benefit is that it cuts back on the amount of required sleep, since yoga re-energizes and replenishes the body, mind and spirit.
Beyond the aforementioned branches of yoga are five other forms of yoga and multiple philosophical beliefs that also contribute to our wellbeing. One of the underlying concepts of yoga is ahimsa, which means “non-violence” or “do no harm.” Certainly, if everyone followed ahimsa, there would be less struggles, hatred and guilt in this world. There are many ways to live out non-violence, and ideally, it should be followed in all aspects of one’s life. Ahimsa is not just about doing unto others as you would have them do onto you. It refers to all forms of life that are critical to our universe. All life forms, including a blade of grass or a scorpion, have prana. Therefore, refraining from consumption of animal products is traditionally a fundamental aspect of those who follow yogic philosophy.
While vegetarianism is part and parcel of being a yogi, it is also another way for followers to reap health benefits. Eating a plant-based diet not only reduces one’s chances for many diseases, but also is by default ensuring that there is more prana absorbed. How much prana can be in a can of tuna that’s been sitting on a shelf for a few years? Can any prana exist in a frozen turkey and potatoes pre-prepared dinner? Certainly a box of hamburger helper or a dollar value meal is devoid of any life force.
Michelle Obama is not vegetarian, but by her encouraging families to grow vegetables in their own garden patches is contributing to better eating habits and greater absorption of prana in the diet. When the products we consume are closer to Mother Nature and adhering to ahimsa, we are increasing our prana.
Americans may be proud of living in an ultra modern society, yet advancement is not the same as progress. The changes we’ve seen in the average American’s diet and behavior over the last few generations have been negative. Today’s children are more obese and at risk for diabetes and other serious disease states than their parents. Taking a look at the successful practices in many eastern nations can help get us back on track, emotionally and physically.
Editor’s Note: Deborah Charnes has worked as a multi-cultural communications professional for 30 years. She has practiced yoga and meditation for most her adult life and is a certified yoga teacher specializing in stress reduction.
photo credit by lululemon athletica